Nobody can doubt that the Government is getting its media honeymoon — and then some. Epithets like “novel” “refreshing”, “exciting” and “radical” accompany each step the Government takes. One media cheerleader even used the term “noble”. In fairness, the Government itself has made clear that first judgement on its performance should come after 100 days. But some in the media are happy to come to a verdict after just 10 days, and pronounce themselves enthralled.
The reality hardly merits the acclamation. In his first week in office, Tony Blair overturned centuries of economic policy by making the Bank of England independent, thereby sacrificing a major lever of economic policy.
During his first week in office, Franklin Roosevelt set in train a number of innovations which ultimately transformed the American economy. Our Government has certainly taken a number of highly publicised initiatives in its first week, but their long-term value is questionable.
They have changed ministerial transport arrangements. I welcome that, and I regret we did not do it when we had the opportunity. I recall as a junior minister having my own car and two civilian drivers, which is exactly the arrangement which is now being proposed for ministers (outside of the privileged few who will continue to have a State car and Garda driver).
When I was appointed to the Cabinet, I wanted that arrangement to continue. However, when I approached the powers that be with the request that I be able to continue as I was, the door was firmly slammed in my face. I was told that I had absolutely no choice whatsoever but to accept the system applicable to other ministers. There was no argument, no flexibility, and no consideration of individual cases.
However, the change being made to ministerial transport arrangements falls short by some distance of what was promised in the Fine Gael election manifesto. There the possibility of ministers taking public transport was mooted, and also a system of car-pooling was mentioned.
Nevertheless, the change is for the better and long overdue, and I welcome it.
I’m more sceptical about the so-called salary reduction for ministers. Ministers’ salaries have been reduced by about 3 per cent net. This will involve neither significant pain for the recipients nor significant gain for their paymasters among the taxpayers.
The previous Government reduced ministerial salaries (admittedly from a higher level) on a number of occasions and by a far greater amount. The reaction of the media was interesting. Not only was the G overnment not praised, it was ridiculed for its pains.
If the previous Government had reduced salaries by the same amount as was announced last week, it would have been excoriated for the paucity of the gesture. Yet last week’s announcement attracted not a word of media criticism. Why? Have we now reached a point in this country where a political initiative is either good or bad depending on who takes it?
The Government said that it was keeping its 15 junior ministers at home for St Patrick’s Day. In the great scheme of things, this must be regarded as pretty minimal. Of far greater importance is the solemn commitment given on several occasions by the principal party in Government that the number of Ministers of State would be reduced from 15 to 12. Exactly two years ago, in March 2009, Fine Gael proposed a motion in the Dail and argued very strongly for it, to reduce the number of junior ministers to 12.
In fact, leading members of the present Government — such as Alan Shatter — then argued that we could manage with fewer than 12. If that was true then, it is true now — so why have we kept 15?
And why has Fine Gael reneged on its commitment? Could it be that “these ministerial appointments are nothing more than political sinecures designed to keep a reasonable number of members of the Government parties happy” — Alan Shatter’s own words about the decision to employ more than 12 junior ministers back in 2009.
Also, Enda Kenny walked to work one morning. As somebody who has generally walked both to and from work all my life and never received any coverage for it, I was astounded to see that Enda had only walked from some unspecified location in Dublin to Leinster House.
Apparently the walk was only independently verified for the last 50m or so. The media panegyric which greeted this blatant publicity stunt led me to believe he had at least walked from Castlebar. I wonder how he has been getting to work since.
As I said at the outset, I don’t begrudge the Government its media honeymoon. However, a little critical analysis would not go amiss.